The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld state procedures on when election judges must review signatures on absentee ballot envelopes, knocking back a challenge from a conservative election organization.
Monday's unanimous ruling is the latest dismissal of a push from the Minnesota Voters Alliance to change the makeup and procedures around absentee ballot boards, which must accept or reject absentee ballots. It's part of an effort from conservatives nationally to change the way absentee ballots are handled.
"With more Minnesotans making the decision to vote by absentee ballot, this decision should give Minnesotans an additional boost of confidence that laws in our state encourage and support fair, accurate and secure elections," Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said in a statement reacting to the ruling.
Under dispute in the case are the signatures required on the envelope included with every absentee ballot sent to a voter who requests one. The signature is needed from a voter — or someone designated by the voter if that person is unable to write — to attest that the person is eligible to vote.
In the case, attorneys for the alliance argued election judges — who serve on absentee ballot boards — must rely on all of the information in front of them, including signature comparison, to assure that the voter signed the certification on the envelope.
The state argued Minnesota law does not require identical signatures or signature comparison unless the ballot has mismatched identification numbers, a unique identifying code connected to each voter. If the ID number is incorrectly listed, the law allows election judges to then examine signatures as an additional measure to review a ballot.
Appeals Court judges agreed with the state, saying the statute requires signature comparison "only when there is an identification-number discrepancy." The judges agreed that rules from the Secretary of State's Office giving further guidance to election officials do not conflict with the statute.
"The statute does not require signature comparison when the voter uses a nickname, abbreviation, signature mark or initials on one of the documents," the judges added.
The Minnesota Voters Alliance said it plans to "immediately" appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
"Our system depends on relying on the judgment, wisdom, experience, and training of citizen election judges, balanced by party, in deciding whether the voter who applied for a ballot actually cast it," said Andy Cilek, Executive Director of Minnesota Voters Alliance, in a statement. "The Court's decision has created much confusion for election judges."
The case follows another lawsuit from the Minnesota Voters Alliance that argued ballot boards should be staffed almost entirely by election judges from each party. Many Minnesota counties also rely on nonpartisan staff to help handle those ballots. Republican groups are increasing their efforts to recruit conservative election judges.
That case was rejected by the state Supreme Court, which did agree with the alliance that election judges on the boards should handle signature confirmations when those are needed.